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How Much is Your Caffeine Costing You?

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According to the FDA (PDF), "During this time, the average amount of caffeine consumed has remained constant at approximately 300 milligrams (mg) per person per day." Thus the average person has 109,500mg of caffeine a year.

How much does that cost?

Glad you asked. I've got your answer.

Before we get to that though, I'd like to remind no one of the not-so-famous scene in perhaps the best movie that no one saw: Mr. Destiny. The main character Larry Burroughs is having a very bad day, but he decides he needs his coffee. With no way to properly make it, he eats the teaspoon of grounds saying, "Gotta have my coffee."

This is where some (most?) of us are with caffeine. My theory for this post is that while there are a variety of reasons that go into your choice of caffeine, you might find that you are more like Larry than you think. In any case, the idea is to wake you up (pun very much intended) to the costs of caffeine.

The Cost of Caffeine

The Cost of Caffeine

Just in case you don't have 20/5 vision, you can click that image and get a bigger image. I also include the data at the bottom of the post. (It runs a little wide, so I have to put there where it won't run into the sidebar.)

Let me walk you through the math of the first row to get an idea of how this chart works. The first example is the one we are familiar with: Coffee.

Coffee's caffeine ranges all over the spectrum, but the best data I found had it being around 95mg per 8 ounces. As we covered recently (Brewing Coffee at Home vs. Buying at a Coffee Shop), the cost is around $0.30 cents a cup. For someone to get the annual 109,500mg of caffeine from $0.30 cups of coffee, they'd have to spend $345.79 a year.

I always suggest doing a sanity check on this math. Three cups of coffee is a little less than the 300mg average. That's a little less a dollar a day. The $345.79 annual cost is a little less than a dollar a day per year.

The next three columns are very similar to what we covered yesterday in How Much is Your Coffee Costing You? (Maybe 1/3 of Million Dollars!). I've made the assumption that I'm going to live to 85 (based on a life expectancy calculator) which gives me 47 years of annual cost. Your age and life expectancy will vary (hopefully this is obvious). Using Financial Mentor's Latte Factor Calculator, I plugged in all the numbers, just as I did yesterday.

However, I made one change. Yesterday, I put the expected return on investment at 8% as recommended in the chart. While one may be able to invest and get this consistently, it doesn't cover inflation. Thus you are left looking at number that is huge, and a lot of that is due to projecting inflation for 47 years down the line. Some of the numbers in this chart were multiple millions of dollars and that just seemed a little too sensationalistic for my taste. Today, I made the expected return on investment 4%. This lower percentage is intended to cover inflation, investment expenses, gains taxes, etc.

The end result is that you'll get numbers that make sense today.

Using that change and applying it to coffee we find that the lost interest in buying coffee for your caffeine supply is $31,579.63 or $47,831.73 in Real Cost (lost money on the coffee and lost investment opportunity).

I like to look at it this way: If I offered you $47,831.73 would you give up coffee for your life. It is a year's salary for some people. I'm not saying that it is an easy choice, but it is food for thought.

Now you know how the chart works, the data speaks for itself. Here's what I found interesting:


Like coffee, there's a range of different costs for soda. There are generic store brands and name brands. There's the cost of buying soda at the store and in a movie theater. You can save some money by buying 2-liters vs. cans. I went with the pricing of a 12-pack of soda, which I've often seen at $3. The best deal I've gotten is $2, but the Wal-Mart around me charges $2.68 for their Sam's Choice. If it is $3.00 for 12-pack, that's an even $0.25 for a 12-ounce can. I spot checked the caffeine content of a number of sodas and came to an average of 40mg of caffeine. That ranges quite a bit as well.

Even though the cost of soda is lower than coffee, the caffeine content is less. It's nearly 8 cans of soda to get to the average 300mg of caffeine a day. The annual cost comes out to $684 with a real lifetime cost of more than $94,000.

Coffee Shops

I'm going to jump down to coffee shops. Once again, the amount of caffeine varies. I'm going to blame Starbucks' Venti's 415mg of caffeine for raising that 300mg average of Americans. And though it had the lowest lifetime real cost of all the options, paying more for more caffeine that you need is not a financial win. It's like buying 30 gallons of gas for your Smart car, it's just wasteful.

On average, the real lifetime cost of coffee is $123,515.34 or almost $80K more than brewing it at home. If you are making $40K a year, is it worth 2 more years of working to you?

Energy Drinks

The big stand-out in this category was Red Bull. It isn't a lot of caffeine at all for it's cost. I should note that I used Amazon for the costs of Monster and Red Bull. I used my local Aldi and Dollar Tree for the costs of Gridlock and Rip-It. The idea was to show a wide range from a variety of sources. This is why I wrote an article about saving money on energy drinks.

MLM Energy Drinks

It wouldn't be a fun Lazy Man article without a little controversy (and even a little MLM bashing). MLM Energy drinks reflect company-stated retail prices. Often distributors can sign up for a wholesale discount that can earn 25% off. However, as you can see 25% off of a real cost of $471,757.08 isn't much of a deal. It's the old trick, raise the price and offer the consumer a discount to make them think that they are getting a deal.

When you see the real lifetime cost of $646,890.98 for Vemma Verve... it should shock you. There's so little caffeine at a such a huge cost that it can be worth 10-15 years of salary to get an average amount of caffeine. The same holds true for MonaVie eMV. These three things have one thing in common, they are marketing to college students and recently graduated adults who don't know to avoid MLMs, and may be more likely to ignore a buck or two on many small purchases as part of the cost of being in a "business."

Caffeine Pills

Let's get back to the generic area. Of all the common list items here, the cheapest is the caffeine pill. I found 100 of these Natrol Caffeine 200mg Pills for $6 or 6 cents a pill. That's just 3 cents for 100mg or 1/10 the price of coffee that you brew at home. It's 1.5 cents for 50mg or around 1/16th the cost of a can of soda. Cutting the annual cost of to around $32 by taking caffeine pills has a profound effect on the lifetime real cost. It becomes only $4536.

Did I mention that it is a subscribe and save item from Amazon? You can save 15%-20% off the $6 price.

On the downside there's the obligatory Jessie Spano warning:

(I had to include one pop-culture reference that people will know to make for Mr. Destiny above.)

Caffeine Powder

Honestly, I almost purposely left this option out the article. Why? It really isn't a viable option in my view. You could kill yourself. Let me rephrase that a bit for emphasis: You will kill yourself. And people are asking to have caffeine powder banned.

Was I clear there? Good.

(I see you already already thinking about ignoring my warnings. If so, please pick up a milligram scale.)

If it is so dangerous, why did I even include caffeine powder? I wanted to show that the cost of caffeine is trivial for a company to add caffeine to their products. I also wanted to show what the true cost of caffeine really is outside of the convenience of grabbing a drink.

I covered two different prices I found for bulk caffeine powder online. (No, I won't well you where.) For a 100g bulk bag the annual cost was $13.10, almost a third of what it cost for the pills above. However, if you really want to buy in bulk, you get the price as low as 2 tenths of a penny for 100mg. That's a year's worth of caffeine for $1.79. The only problem, besides the minor detail of killing yourself, is that you'll need to split the cost of the huge bag with 405 of your closest friends... or pass it down 10-15 generations.

Final thoughts

I feel like I need to re-emphasize that the beverage choice here isn't always about the caffeine. It can be about the taste, the atmosphere, the health, the convenience, other factors, or a combination of all of them. Nonetheless, it is good to know the financial implications of making your decision.

Finally, I want to thank Caffeine Informer for having an awesome website with all this information. It was extremely helpful to have all the data in one place.

 BrandServing SizeCostCaffeine (mg)Annual CostLifetime CostLost Interest*Real Cost*
Coffee (Generic)8 oz.$0.3095$345.79 $16,252.11 $31,579.63 $47,831.73
Soda (Average)12 oz.$0.2540$684.38 $32,165.63 $62,501.35 $94,666.97
Natrol Pills (Amazon)1 Pill$0.06200$32.80 $1,541.38 $2,995.06 $4,536.44
Caffeine Powder (100g bulk)100mg$0.01100$13.10$615.52 $1,196.03 $1,811.55
Caffeine Powder (25kg bulk)100mg$0.002100$1.79$83.98$163.19$247.17
Coffee Shops
Starbucks (Tall)12 oz.$1.75260$737.02 $34,639.90 $67,309.14 $101,949.05
Starbucks (Venti)20 oz.$2.25415$593.67 $27,902.71 $54,218.04 $82,120.75
Dunkin Donuts (Medium)14.oz$1.79178 $1,101.15 $51,754.13 $100,563.97 $152,318.10
Dunkin Donuts (Large)20 oz.$1.99244$893.05 $41,973.50 $81,559.14 $123,532.64
McDonalds (Small)12 oz.$1.00109 $1,004.59 $47,215.60 $91,745.10 $138,960.69
McDonalds (Large)20 oz.$1.69180 $1,028.08 $48,319.92 $93,890.91 $142,210.83
Coffee Shop Avg16 oz.$1.75231$892.93 $41,967.63 $81,547.72 $123,515.34
Energy Drinks
Gridlock (Aldi)16 oz.$1.00162$675.93 $31,768.52 $61,729.73 $93,498.24
Rip-It16 oz.$1.00200$547.50 $25,732.50 $50,001.08 $75,733.58
Monster16 oz.$1.46160$999.47 $46,975.21 $91,278.01 $138,253.22
Red Bull8.4 oz.$1.5180 $2,070.80 $97,327.82 $189,118.66 $286,446.48
Energy Drink Avg $1,073.43 $50,451.01 $98,031.87 $148,482.88
MLM Energy Drink
Vemma Verve1 can$3.4280 $4,676.56 $219,798.44 $427,092.54 $646,890.98
MonaVie eMV1 can$2.4680 $3,364.84 $158,147.66 $307,298.29 $465,445.95
LifeVantage Axio1 packet$2.00100 $2,190.00 $102,930.00 $200,004.31 $302,934.31
MLM Energy Avg $3,410.47 $160,292.03 $311,465.05 $471,757.08

Last updated on October 13, 2015.

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5 Responses to “How Much is Your Caffeine Costing You?”

  1. Nice saved by the bell reference! I completely forgot about Jessie’s breakdown due to caffeine pills. I think I’ll stick to my crappy office coffee for now. Not great, but the price is right ;)

  2. Very enlightening numbers. Yikes! I prefer coffee as my main form of caffeine. It just smells and tastes so good! I absolutely LOVE that episode of Saved By the Bell. It was so funny and heartbreaking at the same time.

  3. Thanks for the breakdown as I will show the resident coffee maker in the house my wifey how much she is wasting on starbucks lol. For me I will drink an occasional redbull, surprised to see the caffeine content so low!

  4. I remember that Save by the Bell episode. This is probably the most in depth analysis of coffee I’ve seen.

  5. Lazy Man
    This is humorous to me. That is because this morning when I arrived to work no one had made coffee. But there were some remnants from yesterday. So in my mug, in the microwave and down my gullet it went.

    I tasted just as bad as the day before.


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